Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita which in English is titled 'The Sweet Life' follows a gossip columnist named Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni) whose job chronicles 'the sweet life' of fading aristocrats, second-rate movie stars, aging playboys and vapid women of commerce. The movie follows Marcello as he chases down stories and women, and attends high-class elaborate parties, all the while he has a suicidal fiancee waiting for him at home. That can seem like 'the sweet life' when your young, free and reckless, but when looking closer at the film you see a cautionary tale about a soulless man who seems to have lost all his drives, hopes and ambitions, and is trapped in a life of empty nights and lonely mornings. Fellini purposely shows a Rome that is ancient with churches, aqueducts, castle's and the Vatican which is a large contrast to helicopters, pop music, apartment complexes, premarital sex, drugs, alcohol and the emerging mass-consumer lifestyle. Similar to Fellini's autobiographical film 8 ½ this film is a harsh satirical look at celebrity culture, media and a dark odyssey through the gritty streets of Rome, touring the seedy parts of bars, sidewalk cafe's and nightclubs. This is one of Fellini's most bleakest films and the character of Marcello is a man who is desperately searching for an identity and a purpose, and yet lacks a moral center. La Dolce Vita is said to have several religious themes integrated within the structure of its story, as the film chapters catalog the seven deadly sins, which takes place on the seven hills of Rome, and also involves seven nights of partying and seven dawns of hangovers. Marcello ascends into the nightclubs, picking up a promiscuous society beauty and the two of them decide to descent into the basement lair of a prostitute. All episodes end not in sex but in sleep; so were never quite sure that Marcello really has sex with anyone throughout the film. Another dawn arrives, and we begin to understand the film's rhythmic structure: Which is a series of nights and dawns, descents and ascents. Marcello goes down into subterranean nightclubs, hospital parking lots, the hooker's hovel and an ancient crypt. And he ascends St. Peter's dome, climbs to a choir loft, to the high-rise apartment of Steiner, and will even fly over Rome. Much of these sequences that are presented in the film are highly symmetrical, as are so many others, matching the sacred and the profane, the wealthy and the poor, the real and the false, and the beautiful and the grotesque. In the classic prologue of the film the first line of dialog you hear is "Look, it's Jesus!" as you see Marcello ascent in a helicopter which is transporting a statue of Christ over an ancient Roman aqueduct outside Rome. In the meantime the 'unchrist like' protagonist Marcello is momentarily distracted by a group of bikini-clad women sunbathing on the rooftop of a high-rise apartment building, gesturing to get the women's phone numbers. In this classic opening shot Fellini shows two sides of nature which is the holy and the profane, in which Fellini once stated that the original title of the film was "Although Life Is Brutal and Terrible, You Can Always Find a Few Wonderful Moments of Sensuality and Sweetness." The symbolism of Christ whose arms outstretched as if blessing all of Rome as it flies overhead in the classic prologue was perceived by the Catholic Church as a parody of Christ's second coming. Because of that the scene and the entire film was condemned by the Vatican newspaper in 1960 and the film was banned in Spain until 1975 after the death of Franco.
1st Day Sequence:
"Look, it's Jesus! Where are they going?" as you see a helicopter transporting a statue of Christ over an ancient Roman aqueduct outside Rome while the unchrist like protagonist Marcello is in his news helicopter, following it into the city. The news helicopter is momentarily distracted by a group of bikini-clad women sunbathing on the rooftop of a high-rise apartment building as the girls yell out, "what's going on with that statue? Where are you taking it?" Hovering above, Marcello shouts the answers out but the women can't hear him because of the sound of the helicopter. Marcello then gestures to get the woman's phone numbers from them but fails in his attempt and then shrugs and continues on following the statue into Saint Peter's Square.
1st Day Sequence:
Later that evening Marcello is attending a private party at an exclusive nightclub as he has one of his young photographers in who he calls Paparazzo take a picture of a celebrity. When a man sees this he asks Marcello to sit down at his table as the man calls Marcello a naughty boy for having taking that picture and tells him he should break his little face. Marcello says it's just his job for a little publicity and the man says, "you call that publicity? You got her in trouble with her husband."
A beautiful and wealthy heiress, Maddelena walks into the room and sits at the bar as you notice she has a bruised eye from an abusive husband. Marcella walks up to her and says, "good evening, Maddalena. Alone? Would you like to dance." She declines his offer telling him everything is going wrong for her tonight. Marcello asks if he can accompany her as they walk outside through the square. "Your friends are ready to attack," she says as they watch a group of paparazzi trying to shoot pictures of Maddalena and him while they leave in her Cadillac together.
They later park far down the road and Maddalena says, "I'd like to live in a new city. Where I don't know anyone." Marcello says, "personally I like Rome very much. It's a sort of a moderate, tranquil jungle where one can hide well." Maddalena says she'd like to hide to but can't. "I'm fed up with Rome. I'd like an island," she says as she steps out of the car. Marcella tells her to buy one then because she's wealthy. She then tells him "When I make love, then yes, I come alive. Only love gives me strength."
A few prostitutes walk up to the both of them and Maddalena asks if they want to ride with them. One of the prostitutes decides to go along and gets in the back of her Cadillac. When driving the prostitute home Maddalena asks her if Marcello and her can both come inside the prostitutes apartment for coffee. (Using the prostitute's apartment so she can sleep with Marcella, and not risk the paparazzi interfering.) The prostitute agrees but the apartment is a mess with an area flooding with water as Marcello and Maddalena sneak in her back bedroom and make love. "I'll leave your coffee here," the prostitute tells them.
1st Dawn Sequence:
The next morning Marcello arrives home and finds his wife Emma passed out from overdosing on pills. "Emma! Why are you so crazy?" he yells to her as he picks her up and quickly drives her to the hospital declaring his love for her. Hours pass and Marcello is allowed in to see Emma as she is lying in a semiconscious state in the emergency room. "Emma, why did you do it? Tell me. Why?" he asks her. At the hospital Marcello tries calling Maddalena but she's sleeping and doesn't answer her phone.
2nd Day Sequence:
That next day, Marcello goes on assignment for the arrival of Sylvia (Anita Ekberg), a famous buxom Swedish-American actress, at Ciampino airport where she is met by a large group of news reporters. The journalists tell her to go back in the plane and come out again to make another entrance for their picture-taking. There's a huge amount of traffic following Sylvia as she heads to a press conference.
During her interview one of the journalist asks her what she likes and she says, "I like lots of things but there are three things I like most. Love, love and love." Marcella calls Emma during the press conference with Emma getting all jealous and hysterical and even threatening Marcella. Marcella ensures Emma to take her medication while reassuring her that he is not alone with Sylvia.
After the film star confidently replies to the barrage of journalists' questions, Marcello casually recommends that Sylvia be taken on a tour of St Peter's. Inside St Peter's dome, a news reporter complains that Sylvia is "an elevator" because none of them can match her energetic climb up the numerous flights of stairs. Inspired, Marcello maneuvers forward to be alone with her when they finally reach the balcony overlooking the Vatican with losing her hat from the breeze.
2nd Night Sequence:
That evening, the infatuated Marcello dances with Sylvia in the Baths of Caracalla and Sylvia's natural sensuality triggers raucous partying while Robert, her bored drunken fiancé, reads a newspaper. While dancing Marcello says to her, "you're the woman of creation. You're the mother, the sister, the lover, the friend...the angel, the devil, the earth, the home." A famous actor and friend of Sylvia's named Frankie stops by and dances with her with the band playing pop rock music as Frankie picks her up and spins her around in circles.
Later that evening her husband Robert says a humiliating remark to Sylvia which causes her to get angry and to leave the group, eagerly followed by Marcello and his paparazzi colleagues.
Marcello and Sylvia spend the rest of the evening alone in the alleys of Rome where he tries to kiss her but she suddenly gets distracted by a wolf howling and she howls along with it. That evening Sylvia finds a stray cat in the alley and picks it up. Marcello goes to get milk for the cat and when coming back finds Sylvia in the Trevi Fountain, which Marcello eventually follows her in; which makes for one of the most iconic scenes in art film history. "Sylvia, who are you?" he asks her as the water fountain suddenly stops.
2nd Dawn Sequence:
The early next morning the paparazzi are taking pictures of Sylvia's drunk husband Robert passed out in his vehicle waiting for his wife to return. One of the paparazzi says, "and to think this guy did Tarzan." Marcello returns with Sylvia as the paparazzi swarm around expecting a fight. Robert angrily slaps Sylvia for leaving him and orders her to go inside the hotel and go to bed. Robert then walks up to Marcello and says, "I can understand you..." as he hits Marcello a few times and walks away.
3rd Day Sequence:
The next morning Marcello sees in an old distinguished intellectual friend named Steiner walking into a church. Marcello follows him in and Steiner says, "It's been so Long! How's your book going?" Marcello lies and says, "it's going. I'm gathering material actually, I just finished."
They walk up to the top of the church and Steiner offer's to play Bach on the organ. Steiner shows off his book of Sanskrit grammar to Marcello saying, "such a mysterious voice. It seems to come from inside the earth."
4th Day Sequence:
That late afternoon, Marcello, his photographer friend Paparazzo and Emma drive to the outskirts of Rome to cover the story of the purported sighting of the Madonna by two children. Although the Catholic Church is officially skeptical, a huge crowd of devotees and reporters gathers at the site.
3rd Night Sequence:
That night, the event is broadcast over Italian radio and television. Blindly following the two children from corner to corner in a downpour, the crowd tears a small tree apart for its branches and leaves said to have sheltered the Madonna with the children yelling, "Madonna said that if you don't build a church here she wont come anymore!"
Meanwhile while all this is happening Emma prays to the Virgin Mary for Marcello to marry her saying, "Marcello, why did you change so much? Why don't you love me anymore? Holy Madonna if only he'd marry me..."
3rd Dawn Sequence:
The gathering ends at dawn with the crowd mourning a sick child, a pilgrim brought by his mother to be healed, but was trampled to death from the crowd.
4th Night Sequence:
The next evening, Marcello and Emma attend a gathering at Steiner’s luxurious home where they are introduced to a group of intellectuals who recite poetry, strum the guitar, offer philosophical ideas, and listen to sounds of nature recorded on tape. Marcello tells one of the guests who is a famous writer, "I envy you very much. You know, I've read all your stories from around the world. I'd like to travel myself. You get the chance to meet exceptional people, woman of all races. I'd love to have children of all colors."
One woman says to Marcello that Steiner told her he has two loves...Journalism and literature. She tells Marcello to never get married and to say free and never choose. Marcello tells her, "I read your poetry a few years ago, when I thought about writing poetry. I like it. It's strong, sharp. This is the art I prefer. The one I think we'll need tomorrow. A clear, precise art without rhetoric, that doesn't lie, that isn't flattering. Now, I have a job I don't like, but I often think about tomorrow."
Steiner's kids get out of bed and walk out interrupting everyone. Steiner happily takes the children to bed, as Emma appears enchanted with Steiner's home and children, telling Marcello that one day he will have a house like this. He somewhat ignores Emma's comments and walks outside to the terrace to accompany Steiner. He tells Steiner how much he admires his life saying, "Your house is a real refuge. Your children, your wife, your books, your extraordinary friends. Once I had ambitions, but maybe I'm losing everything." Steiner says, "Don't think that safety is being locked up in one's home. Don't do what I did. I'm to serious to be an amateur, but not enough to be professional. There. A more miserable life is better, believe me...than an existence protected by an organized society where everything is calculated, everything is perfect."
Steiner and Marcello then walk quietly into Steiner's children's bedroom watching the children sleep. Steiner says to Marcello while looking over his beautiful children, "peace frightens me. I think of what my children will see tomorrow. 'The world will be wonderful' they say. From what point of view? When a phone call can announce the end of the world. One should live outside of passions beyond emotions...in that harmony you find in completed artworks...in that enchanted order. We should learn to love each other so much...to live outside of time, detached...detached."
5th Day Sequence:
The next day at a diner after arguing on the phone again with Emma, Marcello tries to peacefully type his novel at a seaside restaurant. There he meets Paola a young waitress from Perugia playing cha-cha Patricia on the jukebox and then humming its tune. He first asks her to be quite but then sees a sense of pureness and innocence. He then asks where she is originally from and if she has a boyfriend and they both soon about what she wants to be and how he's aspiring to write a novel. He then says to her, "you look like one of those angels from the paintings of an Umbrian church."
5th Night Sequence:
When arriving in the city later that day Marcello's paparazzi friends tell him his father is here. Marcello sees his father who is visiting Rome on the Via Veneto and goes to sit down and spent time with his father, as his father asks how his job in Rome is going. His father gives him a letter from his mother telling him he hasn't visited home in a while, and that he should. His father then asks about a place he heard in the area called the Cha Cha club and Marcello and his friend Paparazzo decide to take Marcello's father there for the evening.
His father entertains the both of them with funny stories about his times in Paris. Then Marcello recognizes one of the dancers named Fanny who was one of his past one-night stands and where he promised to get her a picture in the paper but failed to do it. His father invites Fanny to bring some champagne and join them at the table; in which Fanny is taken by Marcello's father saying he looks very young. His father says, "I traveled a lot for business as a young man. When I was on the road, I felt like a lion. Even now, when I travel, I can keep up with any of these young men but at home, it's as though I were 80."
Eventually after some jokes and laughter his father gets up to have a waltz with Fanny as they leave Marcello and Paparazzo alone. Marcello tells Paparazzo, "you know that when I was a boy, my father was never at home. He'd stay away one week, 20 days. He never came back. How my mother cried. I almost never saw him. I don't really know him. But I was glad to see him again tonight."
4th Dawn Sequence:
That evening Marcello's father decides to leave with Fanny and head back to her place but Marcello later is told that his father got suddenly ill. When checking up on his father at Fanny's it seems by the way his father is acting that he suffered a mild heart attack. His father informs Marcello that he feels better and decides to catch the 5:00 train that morning to head home. Even though Marcello tries to talk him into not leaving quite yet and to stay another day his father declines becoming very distant with Marcello. Fanny looks out her window as she watches Marcello's father drive off leaving Marcello alone in the street.
6th Night Sequence:
Marcello, his friend Nico and other party acquaintances meet on the Via Veneto and are driven to a castle owned by wealthy aristocrats at Bassano di Sutri outside Rome. There is already a party long in progress, and the party-goers already look drugged up and intoxicated. By chance at the party Marcello meets Maddalena again. The two of them explore a suite of ruins annexed to the castle. Maddalena seats Marcello in a vast room and then closets herself in another room connected by an echo chamber. "This is the room for serious talks" Maddalena tells him.
She then proposes to him saying, "I'd like everything. I'd like to be your wife and to have fun like a whore." While she tells him this another man comes behind her and kisses and embraces Maddalena, who loses interest in Marcello. Marcello not seeing what is going on starts opening up to Maddalena by saying, "your desperation gives me strength. You'd be a marvelous companion. Because I could tell you everything. Maddalena are you listening? Please answer me." He then realizes she left and so he rejoins the group, as they go through a tour of the castle trying to conjure up spirits and ghosts.
5th Dawn Sequence:
While all this is happening someone takes Marcello's hand in the dark and leads him in the back room. It is Jane an American artist and heiress and they both make love throughout the night. Burnt out and bleary-eyed, the group returns at dawn to the main section of the castle, to be met by the matriarch of the castle, who is on her way to mass, accompanied by priests in a procession.
7th Night Sequence:
That evening Marcello and Emma are alone in his sports car on an isolated road. Emma starts an argument by protesting her love, and tries to get out of the car as Marcello pleads with her not to get out. Emma says, "what have I done to be treated this way? If you loved me half as much as I love you you'd understand some things. But you can't because you don't love anyone. You only care about women...you think that's love! What are you going to do with you life? Who could love you like I do?" Marcello gets enraged saying to her, "Don't you see that you offer me the life of a spineless worm? I don't believe in your aggressive, sticky, maternal love! This isn't love, it's brutalization!" He then yells at her demanding for her to leave his car and when she refuses he smacks her and forcefully throws her out. "Get a truck driver to pick you up, slut!" he says as he drives off.
She is left alone on a lonely road, in the dark. After some hours (it is now dawn), Emma is still alone on the road, holding flowers, when she hears his Marcello's car approaching. She gets in the car without saying a word and they spend the night together.
6th Dawn Sequence:
That next morning Marcello gets a horrifying phone call that his friend Steiner killed his two children with a revolver and then killed himself. Steiner's wife still doesn't know and hasn't returned home yet and since Marcello knows them he offers to go with one of the officers to meet the wife at the bus station to tell her.
6th Day Sequence:
The officer tells the paparazzi to have some compassion this one time as they all swarm around flashing pictures when Steiner's wife arrives and Marcello finally tells her the tragic news.
8th Night Sequence:
In an unspecified amount of time later, an older Marcello who now with gray in his hair and a group of partygoers break into a Fregene beach house owned by Riccardo, a friend of Marcello's by breaking the window. To celebrate Nadia's recent divorce from Riccardo, Nadia performs a striptease to Perez Prado's cha-cha Patricia. Riccardo shows up at the house and angrily tells the party to leave in thirty minutes.
The drunken Marcello attempts to provoke the other partygoers into an orgy and also starts to insult everyone at the party saying, "I've never seen such boring people," as he breaks antiques and splashes water in one of the guests faces. Due to their inebriated states, however, the party descends into mayhem with Marcello throwing pillow feathers around the room as he rides a young woman crawling on her hands and knees saying, "lets pretend you're a nice chicken" while pouring pillow feathers on her.In this last embarrassing scene, Marcello seems so bitter and ashamed of himself that he starts to belittle the other party goers by purposely insulting and ridiculing them.
7th Dawn Sequence:
The party is later told to leave and they all proceed to the beach at dawn where they find a bloated, stingray-like creäture, caught in a fishermen's net.
7th Day Sequence:
Paola, the adolescent waitress from the seaside restaurant in Fregene, sees Marcello and calls to him from across an estuary. She makes hand gestures trying to ask him how his typing is going for his novel. But the words they exchange are lost on the wind and drowned out by the crash of the waves. "I don't understand. I can't hear you!" Marcello yells. He signals his inability to understand what she is saying as Marcello is now a lost and defeated man as he pathetically returns to the partygoers as they all walk away from the beach. In a long final close-up, Paola waves to Marcello then stands watching him with a sad smile not knowing that Marcello's ambition to be a writer is now long gone.
Critics have often commented on the extravagant costumes used throughout Fellini's films. In various interviews, Fellini claimed that the film's initial inspiration was in fact this particular style. Brunello Rondi, Fellini's co-screenwriter and long-time collaborator, confirmed this view explaining that "the fashion of women's sack dresses which possessed that sense of luxurious butterflying out around a body that might be physically beautiful but not morally so; these sack dresses struck Fellini because they rendered a woman very gorgeous who could, instead, be a skeleton of squalor and solitude inside."
Credit for the creation of Steiner (played by Alain Cuny), the intellectual who commits suicide after shooting his two children, goes to co-screenwriter Tullio Pinelli. Having gone to school with Italian novelist Cesare Pavese, Pinelli had closely followed the writer's career and felt that his over-intellectualism had become emotionally sterile, leading to his suicide in a Turin hotel in 1950. This idea of a "burnt-out existence" is carried over to Steiner in the party episode where the sounds of nature are not to be experienced first-hand by himself and his guests but in the virtual world of tape recordings.
Most of La Dolce Vita was shot at the Cinecittà Studios in Rome. Set designer Piero Gherardi created over eighty locations, including the Via Veneto, the dome of Saint Peter's with the staircase leading up to it, and various nightclubs. However, other sequences were shot on location such as the party at the aristocrats' castle filmed in the real Bassano di Sutri palace north of Rome. (Some of the servants, waiters, and guests were played by real aristocrats.) Fellini combined constructed sets with location shots, depending on script requirements—a real location often gave birth to the modified scene and, consequently, the newly constructed set.
Fellini scrapped a major scene that would have involved the relationship of Marcello with an older writer living in a tower, to be played by 1930s Academy Award-winning actress Luise Rainer. After many difficult dealings with Rainer, Fellini abandoned the scene. If the director’s dealings with Rainer "who used to involve Fellini in futile discussion" were problematic, biographer Kezich argues that while rewriting the screenplay, the Dolores character grew "hyperbolic" and Fellini decided to jettison "the entire story line." The film's famous last scenes where the monster fish is pulled out of the sea and Marcello waves goodbye to Paola (the teenage "Umbrian angel") were shot on location at Passo Oscuro, a small resort town situated on the Italian coast 30 kilometers north of Rome.
The character of Paparazzo, the news photographer (Walter Santesso), was inspired by photojournalist Tazio Secchiaroli and is the origin of the word paparazzi used in many languages to describe intrusive photographers. As to the origin of the character's name itself, Fellini scholar Peter Bondanella argues that although "it is indeed an Italian family name, the word is probably a corruption of the word papataceo, a large and bothersome mosquito. Ennio Flaiano, the film's co-screenwriter and creator of Paparazzo, reports that he took the name from a character in a novel by George Gissing. Gising's character, Signor Paparazzo, is found in his travel book, By the Ionian Sea (1901).
The most common interpretation of the film is a mosaic, its parts linked by the protagonist, Marcello Rubini, a journalist. The seven principal episodes are as follows:
- 1. Marcello's evening with the heiress Maddalena (Anouk Aimée)
- 2. His long, frustrating night with the American actress Sylvia (Anita Ekberg) that ends in the Trevi fountain at dawn
- 3. His reunion with the intellectual Steiner (Alain Cuny); their relationship is divided into three sequences spread over the entire film: a) the encounter, b) Steiner's party, and c) Steiner's tragedy
- 4. The fake miracle
- 5. His father's visit/Steiner's Party
- 6. The aristocrat's party/Steiner's tragedy
- 7. The orgy at the beach house
Interrupting these seven episodes is the restaurant sequence with the angelic Paola; they are framed by a prologue (Christ statue over Rome) and epilogue (the monster fish), giving the film its innovative and symmetrically symbolic structure. The evocations are obvious: seven deadly sins, seven sacraments, seven virtues, seven days of creation.
Other critics claim that this widespread view of the film's structure is inaccurate. Peter Bondanella, for example, argues that "any critic of La dolce vita not mesmerized by the magic number seven will find it almost impossible to organize the numerous sequences on a strictly numerological basis."
Critic Robert Richardson suggests that the originality of La dolce vita lies in a new form of film narrative that mines "an aesthetic of disparity." Abandoning traditional plot and conventional "character development," Fellini and co-screenwriters Ennio Flaiano and Tullio Pinelli, forged a cinematic narrative that rejected continuity, unnecessary explanations, and narrative logic in favour of seven non-linear encounters between Marcello, a kind of Dantesque Pilgrim, and an underworld of 120 different characters. These encounters build up a cumulative impression on the viewer that finds resolution in an "overpowering sense of the disparity between what life has been or could be, and what it actually is."
In a device used earlier in his films, Fellini orders the disparate succession of sequences as movements from evening to dawn. Also employed as an ordering device is the image of a downward spiral that Marcello sets in motion when descending the first of several staircases (including ladders) that open and close each major episode. The upshot is that the film's aesthetic form, rather than its content, embodies the overall theme of Rome as a moral wasteland.
La Dolce Vita was the film that coined the term 'paparazzi', and the morality of those supposed journalists haven't changed much since Fellini followed its founding members around in 1960 as they snapped celebrity photos along Rome's Via Veneto. The film is now over 40 years old, and are older than most tabloids, and lifestyle magazines that continue to follow the life stories of the wealthy and talentless vapid nobodies who each are aspiring to get a slice of their own personal la dolce vita. Fellini's masterpiece could have been filmed yesterday, although no artists today could match Fellini's satirical subtlety or Marcello Mastroianni's irresistible charm, and yet it seems celebrity news and gossip have only gotten worse, with the death of Princess Diana, along with the rise of narcissism with the creation of facebook and twitter, the high popularity of reality shows, and of such talentless hacks like The Kardashian family and Paris Hilton.
Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita is a sad and tragic character study that shows a lot of contrasts between the pure and the profane, the real and the false, the rich and the poor, and the strong and the weak. Fellini purposely shows a Rome that is ancient with churches, aqueducts, castle's and the Vatican, which is a large contrast to helicopters, pop music, apartment complexes, premarital sex, drugs, alcohol and the emerging mass-consumer lifestyle. Like his next film 8 ½ this film is a harsh satirical look at celebrity culture and media and a dark odyssey through the streets of Rome touring the seedy parts of bars, sidewalk cafe's and nightclubs. This is one of Fellini's bleakest films and the character of Marcello is a man who is desperately searching for an identity and a purpose, and yet lacks a moral center. I can see him fit right in with the bored, unemotional and detached character's within the world of a Michelangelo Antonioni film.
Marcello ascends into the nightclubs, picking up promiscuous society beauties and the two of them decide to descent into the basement lair of a prostitute. All episodes ends not in sex but in sleep; so were never quite sure that Marcello really has sex with anyone throughout the film. Another dawn arrives, and we begin to understand the film's rhythmic structure: Which is a series of nights and dawns, descents and ascents. Marcello goes down into subterranean nightclubs, hospital parking lots, the hooker's hovel and an ancient crypt. And he ascends St. Peter's dome, climbs to a choir loft, to the high-rise apartment of Steiner, and will even fly over Rome. Much of these sequences are highly symmetrical, as so are many others, matching the sacred and profane, wealthy and the poor, the real and the false.
In one of the most iconic sequences of the film Marcello is covering the arrival of an improbably buxom movie star (Anita Ekberg) in Rome and is consumed with lust and desire. He follows her to the top of St. Peters, into the bowels of a nightclub, and into the Roman night, with his pursuit finally coming to an end in the Trevi Fountain, as Marcello idolizing the buxom movie star into the 'ideal' women that every man wishes they had. This sequence can be paired with a later sequence that involves children reporting a vision of the Virgin, and Marcello races to the site, which is surrounded by TV cameras and a crowd of the devout. Again, we have an idealized woman and like before, the children lead the faithful on a chase, just as the buxom movie star had done to Marcello earlier in the film.
Ironically Dio De Laurentiis was the original producer for La Dolce Vita but walked away when Fellini refused to cast American star Paul Newman for the lead role of Marcello, (which ironically his name is brought up in a conversation near the end of the film.) Fellini insisted on casting Mastroianni because he said he needed "a very normal face, a face with no personality, a banal face, a face like yours." Fellini regretted on not getting Henry Fonda for the role of Steiner which would have made the film extremely interesting. Then there is the busty former Miss Sweden, Anita Ekberg who had scandalized Rome with her well publicized spats with actor husband Anthony Steele. Anita Ekberg became a would famous sex symbol when the film was released and when Mastroianni died, the famous fountain in the film was shut down and draped in black crêpe for mourning.
La Dolce Vita was a drastic but defining shift away from Fellini's 50's films that were geared more toward Italian Neorealism. Unlike the films like La Strada and Nights of Cabiria there was no innocent Giulietta Masina character who is sweet, naïve and looking for love. Parts of her child like character show up in the character of Sylvia and Emma, but I feel that there is no room for an innocent character like Giulietta Masina in a harsh film like this one. La Dolce Vita was also the one film that shifted the tone of Fellini's earlier work into more fantasy like 'Felliniesque;' which eventually lead to his surreal masterpiece 8 ½. Fellini once said, "There is an effort to show a world without love, characters full of selfishness, people exploiting one another, and in the midst of it all, there is always and especially in the films with Giulietta a little creäture who wants to give love and who lives for love."
The famous iconic scene in the Trevi Fountain was shot over a week in winter: in late January according to Anita Ekberg. Fellini claimed that Ekberg stood in the cold water in her dress for hours without any trouble while Mastroianni had to wear a wetsuit beneath his clothes - to no avail. It was only after he got drunk (He polished off a bottle of vodka) that the director could shoot the scene. La Dolce Vita's famous narrative structure is set up as seven episodes which resemble the seven deadly sins, seven sacraments, seven virtues, and the seven days of creation. Interrupting these seven episodes is the restaurant sequence with the angelic Paola; they are framed by a prologue (Christ statue over Rome) and epilogue (the monster fish), giving the film its innovative and symmetrically symbolic structure.
In a device used earlier in his films, Fellini orders the disparate succession of sequences as movements from evening to dawn. Also employed as an ordering device is the image of a downward spiral that Marcello sets in motion when descending the first of several staircases (including ladders) that open and close each major episode. The upshot is that the film's aesthetic form, rather than its content, embodies the overall theme of Rome as a moral wasteland. La Dolce Vita was Fellini's most successful and most controversial film. The phrase 'La Dolce Vita' became instantly synonymous with a desirable form of urban decadence and the term 'paparazzi' entered the language, after the character of Paparazzo in the film.
Marcello endless search for a meaning and a purpose in his life seems unfruitful and one wonders if he will ever get out of the rut he made for himself. He stays in a relationship with a woman he does not love and seems to only keep her around out of his own selfishness because he needs her emotionally. Marcello is a man who has so much potential to be a great writer and accomplish great things but instead spends his time with the wrong crowd; being around drunk drug using shallow aristocrats who bring him nothing intelligently or spiritually. In many ways Marcello reminds me of the character's in a Michelangelo Antonioni film. Vapid, wealthy, unhappy people
living out their soulless, meaningless existence, and who can't love others because they don't even love themselves.
When I was younger I always looked up to these groups of people who would always go out and have a wild night on the town. It seemed like they would get drunk, stoned and get laid and a part of me wanted to inhabit some of their exciting reckless lifestyle. Now being older and wiser I look at those people quite differently and I now see lost boring lives that sadly repeat the same routine over and over again; and I find myself now pitying them. None of these people are doing nothing anything remotely interesting with their lives and usually don't have anything intelligent or important that they discuss with one another. Their so-called party friends aren't even real friends but people who leach onto one another because of either boredom or because of their connections. I doubt if they sobered up and hung out they would find much they actually had in common with each other.
Marcello's character somewhat reminds me of Jack Nicholson's character in Five Easy Pieces; a man who has great intelligence and yet chooses to be around unintelligent unchallenging people who are all inferior to him because of his own personal fear of failure, and lack of self-confidence. Everyone that Marcello surrounds himself with are wealthy, bored, shallow, unhappy empty characters and sadly Steiner is the only person he truly admires and respects. The heart of La Dolce Vita lies within the subplot that involves Steiner, a man who represents all that Marcello envies, and wants to be. Steiner lives in an apartment filled with art, and loves having intellectual conversations over poets, folk singers, and writers. He has a beautiful wife and two perfect children. When going over to Steiner's home and meeting his wife, children and deep intellectual friends; you can see that this is where Marcello truly wants to be; but he can't seem to pull himself out of the celebrity public spotlight. When Marcello sees Steiner entering a church, they both ascend to the organ loft and Steiner plays Bach while urging Marcello to have more faith in himself, and finish the book Marcello is writing. Then follows the night of Steiner's party, and the moment (more or less the exact center of the film) where Marcello takes his typewriter to a country trattoria and tries to write his book. Then comes the terrible second Steiner scene, when Marcello discovers that Steiner's serenity was made from a tissue of lies. Of course a perfectly happy married life can be deceiving and even though Steiner tells Marcello that he himself wishes he had Marcello's free reckless lifestyle; the murder of his children and of his suicide is shocking. How could a man who has everything do something so horrible? If a man so wise and educated on life can commit such a horrendous act; how can life make any sense? I believe Steiner's murder-suicide was Marcello's breaking point, and the trigger that made him lose all that was left of his goals, aspirations and ambitions on becoming a writer. La Dolce Vita is full of memorable moments, including The echo chamber, The Mass at dawn, The final desperate orgy, and of course the touching sequence with Marcello's father who is a traveling salesman, who joins Marcello on one night on the town. Marcello's father, filled with the courage of champagne, grows bold with a young woman who owes Marcello a favor, only to leave because of a mild illiness, and once again abandoning his son, at the grey of dawn. The music by Nino Rota is of a perfect piece for the material, as it mixes some jazz, some rock and some pop songs, giving off a perfect blend that is need for the film. To this day, La Dolce Vita remains a classic and one of the most critically acclaimed films in the world. There are many scenes in the film that are symmetrical but the most interesting is the famous opening and closing sequences. For instance the scene of the statue of Christ being carried above Rome is a symbol of something that is beautiful and yet false. The ending of the film shows a sea monster caught in a fishing net which is a symbol of something ugly and yet real. I believe those two scenes sum of what Fellini' is trying to say about the film in which both those scenes also feature the failure of communication. Film critic Roger Ebert considers La Dolce Vita Fellini’s best film and lists it in his Top 10 of all time saying, "Movies do not change, but their viewers do. When I saw La Dolce Vita in 1960, I was an adolescent for whom 'the sweet life' represented everything I dreamed of: sin, exotic European glamour, the weary romance of the cynical newspaperman. When I saw it again, around 1970, I was living in a version of Marcello's world; Chicago's North Avenue was not the Via Veneto, but at 3 a.m. the denizens were just as colorful, and I was about Marcello's age. When I saw the movie around 1980, Marcello was the same age, but I was 10 years older, had stopped drinking, and saw him not as a role model but as a victim, condemned to an endless search for happiness that could never be found, not that way. By 1991, when I analyzed the film a frame at a time at the University of Colorado, Marcello seemed younger still, and while I had once admired and then criticized him, now I pitied and loved him. And when I saw the movie right after Mastroianni died, I thought that Fellini and Marcello had taken a moment of discovery and made it immortal. There may be no such thing as the sweet life. But it is necessary to find that out for yourself."